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Posterized April 2019: ‘High Life,’ ‘Her Smell,’ ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ and More

Written by on April 5, 2019 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.

I often think there are simply too many films being released any given weekend. When the campaign for Avengers: Endgame (April 26) works best on a computer screen where you can line all the character sheets up and discern the aesthetic meaning of its color palette and the one for Shazam! (April 5) is less than inspiring with Zachary Levi acting a fool with props, however, there can’t be too many because there’s more to look forward to than what we’re going to see anyway. These films don’t need inspired artwork because the opening date is literally the only thing that matters.

The same can be said about remakes of Pet Sematary (April 5), Hellboy (April 12)—although the latter said screw it and went crazy nonetheless (see below)—and to a lesser extent Laika’s Missing Link (April 12). That’s why the indie scene with original works is so crucial to the longevity of posters as an art form. It’s the small stuff looking to standout that has the need to risk everything to be seen. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, there’s a chance you remember.

Peas in a pod

One way to get noticed: sex. So Kustom Creative puts Félix Maritaud front and center in the throes of ecstasy for Sauvage/Wild (limited April 10). Realizing that the words “Graphic” and “Raw” will be read to infer upon what this scene shows outside of its tight crop, they’re allowed to focus more on the face, sweat, and spirit instead. A blurred mustache at top right is all that’s necessary to create a story. The open mouth and closed eyes taking up the left half of the page enough to designate the star’s pleasure. You want to see more? Buy a ticket.

Sex is also what Gravillis Inc. uses to sell the new-adult romance adaptation After (April 12). It’s not surprising since the book series on which it’s based is often compared to Fifty Shades of Grey and apparently deals with the aftermath of losing one’s virginity. Rather than allude to the sexual tension like the marketing for that trilogy, however, this one brings us right into the act.

What’s great about this first poster is the way it simultaneously shows the kiss and censors its participants. This plays into the assumed youth of the protagonists—hiding their eyes so as to hide their identities—and provides a welcome dose of negative space to place the title. Either we settle on the name before coming up for air to see the embrace or we start there and slowly make our way down like a camera pan giving its actors some privacy. Both options are effective.

The final sheet loses that dance between viewer and subject. Here everything is out in the open and we’re simply forced to watch. What had mystery now almost seems comical with a tattooed kid feigning “bad boy” cred and its glamour shot lighting making us think someone will yell “Cut!” so we can see the crew just out-of-frame.

Little Woods (limited April 19) changes gears here by utilizing an atmospheric blend of overlays. Its mystery lies in the parallel scenes of fire amongst the trees above and foreboding figure silhouetted in the dark below. Where the two women factor in is anyone’s guess, those two moments frozen in their heads as memories still haunting them despite being (literally and figuratively) behind them.

It’s a captivating sheet with a great condensed, boxy sans serif font that appears to be expanding further in front of us. What’s most interesting, though, is how this design might reveal NEON’s hand as far as aesthetic goes since it is so similar in style to AllCity’s Gemini. You can’t blame them as the ethereal quality does stray far from the glossy photo sheen of most movie theater wall art. And you can’t blame the agency for giving them something they know they probably will like.

The couple of the month, however, comes courtesy of The Posterhouse and their one-sheet for J.T. LeRoy (limited April 26). Those who know the story know that the two women on the poster are both the titular author and not. So it’s great to see them dressed similarly (hat and sunglasses) despite very obviously being Kristen Stweart and Laura Dern. And for those who don’t know the story, well everything they need is right there.

First you have the faux book spine to depict the literary craft at its back. Then you have the actors themselves in their matching wardrobe. And last the watercolor blotches that turn the whole into some sort of photographic Rorschach test. What do you see? Two women? One man? A lie? Or the truth hiding in plain sight? It’s too bad that all the text makes it so the central image can’t breathe because it’s a good one without it.

Ominous forces

Ominous forces don’t always have to be devils and demons. Sometimes the limelight of fame and fortune can portend even worse things for a protagonist. I think B O N D does a great job presenting this concept with their poster for Teen Spirit (limited April 12). They could have just slapped a photo of Elle Fanning on a stage to get at the musical nature of the film and yet they decide to bring things close and freeze her at a moment of calm and perhaps fright. She’s not belting lyrics here. She’s either at a quiet moment or staring off into the distance at something or someone she didn’t count on being there.

The purple light and neon title call to mind Nicholas Winding Refn and honestly this could have easily been inspired by his collaboration with Fanning on The Neon Demon. We can tell this character’s journey to live her dream isn’t going to be cheery because of the colors, shadows, and contrast providing drama rather than success. This is more electric dread than poppy excess.

Hail Satan? (limited April 19) kind of does the exact opposite by taking its dark material and making it relatably light. This is Black Phillip as the Statue of Liberty—freedom of religion fought for in a country that more and more pretends to be Catholic rather than the melting pot promised by its Constitution.

So we’re not laughing at the juxtaposition as much as letting it remind us that the Satantic Temple has as many rights as the Catholic Church. It must because there’s no point otherwise? Let this animal become a symbol of hope because that’s exactly what it is. The institution has spoken to a nation of unrest and positioned Satan as a voice of reason. He is now asking for your tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning.

Leave it then to Hellboy (April 12) to reclaim the horror of Hell and place it back to the realm of fantasy—despite also giving it the potential to be savior rather than destroyer. This reboot is the type of property that doesn’t need a huge marketing push beyond recognition and dates, yet LA went all-out in creating a massive campaign with unique aesthetics.

To me the more photo-real teaser is the cream of the crop because it embraces the chiaroscuro of flames in darkness to beautiful effect with a formidable subject and a gorgeous crown. There’s malice here in direct contrast to the hokey comic font of the title—a glimpse at what might be if this hero starts fighting for the wrong side.

Compare it to the full sheet and its mishmash of characters to see just how much better less is than more. The red washes everything out until it becomes a boring tint scale instead of a depiction of characters. I’m not sure you can get anything or worth out of this muddled mess.

So good on them for traveling outside the box with a surreal painting meets cartoon hybrid of demons taking Hellboy apart and the regal profile in blood of a Hellboy in reverie. These both take the character out of the Hollywood machine and allow him to put his emotions, history, and fears on display. This is a story about a devil nurtured to be better than his nature. The artwork should reflect that internal battle.

It’s P+A’s The Wind (limited April 5) that I enjoy most in this section, however. This is a thriller with an unseen and unknown entity wreaking havoc on those forced to remain in the desolate plains of unpopulated territories out west. Maybe the title describes the reality of what frightens the woman standing in that doorway or perhaps it’s merely the vehicle on which the more malicious darkness rides to claim its victims. Either way it’s not quite coming for her since it’s already there.

The sheet is a huge evolutionary leap from the original festival piece thanks to the added budget afforded by a distributor. That’s not to say it’s inherently better, though, since this black and white gem does well to express the film’s mood to audiences. It’s more obscure as far as narrative is concerned, but there’s no mistaking the unease you’re about to experience when placing a woman dressed in white and covered in blood at the center of the page.

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